I want to be more like Mr. Rogers. I want to be able to move beyond anger, my personal Buddhist mind poison. Known as kleshas to learned practitioners (and mind poisons to the rest of us), anger is what I’m both best at (wrathful compassion, addressed here & here, among other posts), and worst at (need I explain?).
Anger is like fire, my birth sign in both Eastern & Western zodiacs. I’m a fire sign, and a double fire dragon, for those of you who care about these things. As a child I wasn’t a fire starter, but I did (& still do) love a bonfire. Or embers in a fireplace. Fire is so very seductive: it warms us, and it’s so very beautiful, as well.
It’s useful, too. If controlled. Lately, as I cruise FB reading the heinous actions of our government, mine rages like a California wildfire. It certainly lacks control. I want to lash out, say hurtful things to people hurting those I love, tearing down things I love.
And so the universe (and sometimes my younger son) sends me reminders: a comic (my younger son), an article in a blog (the universe), other salient notes that rage really isn’t helpful. Again, think of the difference between boiling water for tea, and burning the entire field of tea leaves to ash. One comforts. One destroys. Some of the reminders are gentle — the lovely comic. Others? Well, let’s just say it’s payback when your FB thread erupts into hurtful rhetoric at someone you care about. You have to believe it’s (at the very least, partially) your responsibility.
I don’t have any easy fixes. I’m trying to remember to take healing breaths. I”m trying to exercise, to use up nervous energy. But I’m also sick, and dealing w/ the usual day2day minutiae: a beloved recovering from a serious bout of illness, a family member worried about insurance in this new travesty of assistance, a grandson battling the germs of learned immunity. Nothing so very out of the ordinary, but none of it pleasant.
Somewhere, I read that willpower is, like $$, something that can be wasted, or at least used up. I’ve been using mine to do things like eat more vegetables (admirable, but not soul-threatening!). Perhaps it’s time to turn from broccoli to Buddhist thought. Maybe, instead of focusing on what I eat, I should give more thought to what I say, and how I react. Meeting the hate of this current political wildfire with the soothing cool of tonglen. Breathing in the anger I feel, and holding it in my mind with all the anger of the dispossessed Americans — and others around the world. Then breathing out healing peace for all of us.
That’s my new plan, at least — one I have to recommit to at least several times a month!! So: here’s to a diet of less fire, and more of the fibre of life, what connects us and makes us human. Our fallible, lacerated, loving and lovable, human hearts.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m working on being happier this year. Not that I wasn’t pretty happy last year. I just want it to be more…conscious this year, I guess. More intentional, since last year’s was in large part the result of non-repeatable actions. Moving 1/2 way across the country, downsizing to a new house… That accounts for a great deal of my excitement last year!
This year, however, we’re living here already. And have more or less ‘settled’ in. We’re (literally!) putting down roots: planting trees & shrubs & flowers and garden beds and swing sets. Well, if digging holes and filling them w/wet cement to ‘plant’ swing set legs counts…
It seems like I’m grownup enough (finally!) to work towards happiness, if necessary. And it appears that’s actually not a bad plan. Last week’s prompt asked me to consider what I do well. And how much of that comes naturally, compared to what I’ve worked to grow better at. And it turns out? There is very little I think I’m ‘naturally’ good at.
This week’s prompt asks me to list ‘what things do you do that take you out of your head?’ Good question! And many of them are the exact things I listed the week before, that required me to study them, practice 🙂them, learn them.
I wonder how many of us still believe the happily-ever-after stories of our childhood. That we would somehow just ‘become’ happy…? That it would descend upon us like a warm sunbeam, and wrap us in light.
Instead, it’s beginning to look as if happiness is more like the garden bed I put in last fall: I had to dig out the execrable red clay (down 10+ inches!), mix peat moss & manure & dirt together, and then put it back in the bed. My beloved had to put in edging to hold the newly raised bed surface in (N.B.: other folks aren’t responsible for our happiness, but they can help!). I had to plant seeds I bought into tiny peat pots, and put them under the lights on the light table, and water them until they were ready to transplant outside. And then I had to mulch the little plants, watering when it was dry weather. But by October? The bed was so lush & lovely no one could believe it! See above. And that was in autumn, when gardens are supposed to be winding down!
Another metaphor (you knooow how I love metaphors): aging is like autumn — full of brilliant light, even when the leaves are falling and the air is chilling. Even on the days when arthritis is a royal pain, and other attendant challenges rear unreasonable heads, I’m grateful to be here.
That too is a part of the whole happiness thing, I’m learning. Gratitude. Another thing I’ve been practicing, writing regularly in my gratitude journal. With entries that range fom the chickadee on the feeder outside, to my elder grandson telling me you’re the best, GiGi!
So here’s my prescription for you and your future happiness: practice it. Treat it like a skill that you can learn. Because it is, I promise. And the more you practice, the better you’ll get at it. Honest.
There are deities in Tibetan Buddhism whose ‘jobs’ revolve around actively protecting faithful Buddhists from evil, inside & out. Palden Llamo is one of my favourites, the only female among the 8 Dharampalas. She is the protector of Buddhist governments, but is also a rabid pacifist, sacrificing her own child to force her war-monger husband to acknowledge the grief of loss. I’m not quite that pacificistic, but you have to admire the woman’s principles. She’s the queen of wrathful compassion — doing good with her anger. Even the Dalai Lama said that if we allow evil to live, we are complicit in its effects.
Anger is what Buddhists call a ‘mind poison,’ one of the klēshas. In other words, it’s a root of suffering. You think?? So: what do we do with this hatred?? The wonderful Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says we cultivate patience. Patience that is fearless (because we have to acknowledge our anger, and face the causes of it). Patience that is kind — What! I’m angry AGAIN??? This is one I’m intimately well acquainted with! Patience that is ongoing, because we will never ‘master’ our human natures. We just have to keep trying.
To some of us, that sounds depressing. But as I think about it? It’s actually kind of comforting: this is who we are, human beings — angry at something or someone. A kind of attachment (there’s that state again!) that we try to let go. In other words? We work to become more than our anger, by learning patience.
So I’m working on just sitting with my anger. Not posting (what I see as) the idiocy of haters. To do so allies myself not with compassion, not with patience, but with the anger surging like the tide in my hot hot blood. I won’t pretend it’s easy, not with a rising death toll, and an inability of power to see how unfair it can be. But I’m not going to be of much use if I feed these flames. Instead, I’ll work for peace — for equity & social justice. And I’ll have to even be patient for those…
Facebook makes me crazy. True confession, that. Since I don’t unfriend folks who don’t agree with my spiritual beliefs, politics, or other values (how would I LEARN???), I find myself often drowning in anger directed at all of the above. Take the tragedy in Dallas.
I am heartbroken, for ALL the famlies affected. Obviously there is grief for the slain & injured officers. But also, my grief includes the mother who raised a black son who has seen his friends, perhaps his own siblings targeted w/ impunity by police across the US. I understand that the 5 police who died in Dallas are NOT the police who murdered Sandra Bland, or Philando Castile. Or the child Tamir Rice. Or Jonathan Farrell. Or any of the more than 100 unarmed African Americans (men, women, children) killed in 2015 alone.
But here’s what white people — at least far too many — don’t get: if this were MY son? MY daughter? I’d be out for blood as well. Almost NONE of the police who beat to death/ shot to death/ bludgeoned to death unarmed African Americans was even arrested. They certainly didn’t go to prison. How can white America think it’s okay for a man who was asked to produce his wallet to be shot to death? This is ON FILM, folks — it’s not someone’s word against someone else’s. With a CHILD in the car. If that were YOUR son, daughter (remember Sandra Bland??), father, best friend… How would YOU feel? Why on EARTH do we expect black Americans to just take this god-awful murderous behaviour??
Please note: I have a dearly loved nephew who is state police. EVERY ONE of these murders (by the white police, NOT this most recent relatively rare occurence) endangers him. Because at some point, people DO break. As the shooter in Dallas did. Yes: he said he wanted to kill white people. He came right out and SAID IT. And why do you think that is? Do you think this is a rage w/out reason, however tragic?
I find myself angry all over again at the fear and hatred lapping at the edges of my life like an incoming tide. Angry at the hatred that is a blazing fire raging. It seems only elemental metaphors and similes work — people are consumed with hatred. And then I find myself succumbing, and hating them back…
What is the matter with us? ALL of us?? I keep asking in various ways — what is wrong with us? And what was s/he thinking? And too many times the answer seems to be that we weren’t thinking: we were just reacting. Out of fear and hatred. Me too, I confess shamefully. Me too.
But for someone writing a blog about compassion, about talking together, this is a confession I shouldn’t need to make. I should, as Susan Moon, a writer I admire tremendously says,
“[p]ractice deep listening: Listen without arguing, and try to hear what the other is really saying, remembering that, as Buddha pointed out, all beings wish to be happy and avoid suffering. A Buddhist practices nonattachment to views. If we human beings are going to stick around on this earth, we need to learn to get along not just with the people who share our views, but also, and more to the point, with the people who get our goat. And remember—we get their goat, too.”
I’m trying, Susan — but it’s VERY hard. Fortunately, I know about wrathful compassion — a Buddhist term I try NOT to fall back on as a way to excuse hatred. I understand the desperation that drove the black shooter to murder 5 police. I have more trouble w/ shooting unarmed men, women & children, or bludgeoning to death the mentally challenged, the physically disabled (both have happened to black Americans). Tomorrow we’ll look at wrathful compassion, and how to work through (even righteous) anger.